In by-elections, you have to be there.

No, Babel-on-the-Bay has no morning line or prediction for the current by-elections in Toronto and Alberta. Readers have been asking for a forecast of what will happen in the four federal by-elections called for June 30. What they need to understand is that all by-elections are local. They are decided on the ground in the specific ridings. You have to be there to understand what is happening.

And even if you are there, you can make mistakes. Given what we know from outside the ridings, you might place a bet on the Conservatives keeping their two Alberta seats. The two Toronto ridings are expected to go Liberal but you might want to hold out for some odds in Trinity-Spadina. That riding is under a bit of a cloud. And we hear that the New Democrats are not giving it up without a hell of a fight. It is entirely an exercise in identifying and getting out your vote in the middle of a four-day summer weekend in downtown Toronto.

It is the type of situation where the late Clarence Peterson excelled. Yes, he was the father of a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, two former Ontario MPPs and one of them served as Premier of Ontario. Yet C.M. Peterson had his early political training with M.J. Coldwell and Tommy Douglas in the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the forerunner of the New Democratic Party. That was before he decided to raise his family in London, Ontario. It is hard to find New democrats in that town.

But the senior Peterson gave us all lessons in identifying and getting out the vote during a by-election in Toronto’s Weston, Mount Dennis area early in the 1980s. He handed out the canvassing kits and debriefed the canvassers. He knew where every vote was and how to get it to the polls. It was a pleasure to work with him. We have also always admired the political work ethic of Clarence’s oldest son and Jim Peterson certainly came by his canvassing skill and drive honestly.

Having once worked on an election in the Trinity-Spadina area, we can report that it is a very complex task to connect with all the ethnic groupings in that riding. Running between meetings with Portuguese-speaking ethnic Chinese from Macoa, to a gay community group, to the Ukrainian-Canadian community, is only a small part of the challenge. The major concern is that the New Democrats are pulling all stops to hold on to the seat of Jack Layton’s widow, Olivia Chow, in the House of Commons. And they have a candidate in place who knows exactly what he is doing and where the priorities lie.

At the same time, Justin Trudeau wrongly rejected an established Liberal candidate who really knows the riding. You would think, he had more important things to do.

So, if you want to call that one, go ahead. Those of us with the experience will wait and watch. We can only hope that we are pleasantly surprised.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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